Get a dermatologist's tips on how to treat a sunburn, plus find out how to prevent getting a sunburn in the future.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Updated May 08, 2020 @ 8:00 am
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Sunburn Treatment
Credit: Boris Jovanovic/Stocksy

Sure, a day in the sun is sometimes just the dose of relaxation you need — that is until you arrive home with incredibly uncomfortable, inflamed skin. At that point, you need a sunburn treatment, and you need it STAT.

While sunscreen (when applied properly and in the correct amounts) can totally prevent this situation, it's easy to see how sunburns happen. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37.5% of adults aged 18 to 66 and older reported being sunburned in the last year. Interestingly enough, the organization also reported that it can take as little as 15 minutes for the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays to damage your skin.

So what can you do to stop a sunburn before it starts? And how do you find relief when a sunburn does unfortunately occur? Before you start googling home remedies, coddle your sensitive skin, play it safe, and check out this dermatologist's advice for treating a sunburn.

How to Quickly Treat a Sunburn

The moment you realize you have a sunburn, you'll want to take steps to restore the skin barrier and reduce inflammation, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Zeichner recommends applying a moisturizer to improve skin hydration, like Vaseline Extremely Dry Skin Rescue Body Lotion.

"The lipid complex in this light lotion helps hydrate and protect the outer skin layer, making it a great option after a sunburn," he notes.

How to Make a Sunburn Less Painful

A sunburn hurts, so it's no surprise that you want to do everything you can to reduce the pain that comes along with it. In addition to a heavy-duty moisturizer, Zeichner says there are a few other products that can help a sunburn to heal. For instance, you might want to try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory hydrocortisone cream to calm damage caused by UV light. Zeichner recommends Aveeno Natural Anti-Itch Cream.

"This one percent hydrocortisone cream calms inflammation, while colloidal oatmeal soothes the skin," he says.

After the initial burn calms down, Zeichner says you should continue to use a moisturizer. You'll also want to avoid exfoliation and choose a moisturizing cleanser instead to "give your skin what it needs: hydration." Zeichner is a fan of Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash.

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How Do I Prevent a Sunburn?

Besides the obvious (wear sunscreen!), the CDC recommends sun protection in many forms, including wearing sunglasses, a hat, and clothing that covers your arms and legs. Seeking shade is also important, Zeichner says. He recommends the Zinnia Sun Screen, which you can fold up and bring anywhere.

And again, don't forget to reapply sunscreen. "Putting it on once will not protect you all day," Zeichner says. So, be sure to reapply every two hours, or after heavy sweating or swimming, choosing the highest SPF levels possible.

The Best Products for Treating Sunburns

Vaseline Extreme Dry Skin Rescue Hand And Body Lotion

Best Products for Sunburns
Credit: Courtesy

This lightweight lotion hydrates and strengthens the skin barrier to lock moisture in. Bonus: It dries down without leaving any greasy residue.

To buy: $2;

Aveeno Active Naturals Anti-Itch Cream

Best Products for Sunburns
Credit: Courtesy

Treat Aveeno's Anti-Itch Cream like a spot treatment for your sunburn. Hydrocortisone calms down inflammation, while colloidal oatmeal relieves any stinging or itchiness.

To buy: $5;

Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash

Best Products for Sunburns
Credit: Courtesy

Even after your sunburn initally calms down, use a moisturizing body wash without any exfoliants to prevent further dryness and irritation.

To buy: $6;